Verbs and Prepositions in French
You’ll notice that many verbs in French are followed by prepositions. We say “J’ai oublié de lui envoyer le message” and “On s’habitue à la nouvelle configuration”. Prepositions exist in many languages, including Latin, from which French developed, although French uses them a lot more often. Whereas Latin is highly inflected, its nouns, pronouns, and adjectives, for example, taking on different forms to show their function within a sentence, such parts of speech in French mainly show gender and number and need accompanying prepositions to show various relationships to other components of a given sentence.
The Role of Prepositions
A preposition normally expresses spatial or temporal relations, or designates a semantic role. As indicated by its name, or its prefix, to be exact, it appears before the noun, pronoun, or other substantive to which it shows a relationship. It takes on, in effect, a preposition.
Examples of prepositions include à, chez, dans, de, and par, which are among those that are the most used in French, according to Le Nouvel observateur, in the grammar section of its website. Sometimes prepositions accompany verbs without any relationship being overtly expressed between the verb and the following components, besides the meaning contained in the verb itself. “Je me souviens de cette scène” indicates that I remember a particular scene. At other times, though, the preposition used with a verb does point obviously to a certain type of relationship with the following components of a sentence. Compare “Je parle à mon grand ami” with “Je parle de mon grand amour”. In the first sentence, I am speaking to my good friend and in the second I am speaking of my great love.
The Common Prepositions in French: À and De
The prepositions à and de are very common in French, as indicated above, and are likely to be the prepositions that follow certain verbs. They are, of course, used independently as well, and have a variety of meanings. The preposition à can mean at, in, or to and the preposition de can mean from, of, or out of. À can show point of departure and destination, cause and consequence, means and outcome. De can also indicate origin, point of departure, consequence, and belonging, as well as separation. If some of these meanings seem to stand in contrast with others, or if the various meanings of à and de seem to overlap, it might help to take a look at their origins. Here are the Latin origins of à and de:
à from Latin ad: to, up to; toward, near; at, until; on; according to;
for Ad is used with the accusative case in Latin.
We see this in the phrase ad infinitum (à l’infini).
We notice its presence in modern French words such as adversaire.
à from Latin a or ab: point of departure, provenance, origin, separation
A and ab are used with the ablative case in Latin.
A appears in the phrase* aliquid a me promisi (j’ai promis quelque chose de mon fonds)*, from Cicero’s De oratore 1.111.
We notice its presence in the French directional phrases à droite and à gauche.
- de from Latin de: away, down from; from; off, about; of; concerning; according to; with regard to
De is used with the ablative case in Latin.
We see it in many titles of Latin treatises, e.g., Cicero’s De legibus (On Laws).
We see this use reflected in Renaissance French, as in Michel de Montaigne’s “De la tristesse” (Essais I ii).
Verbs followed by the preposition À
When the preposition à follows a verb, it can introduce a noun, another verb, or a complete idea (within a prepositional phrase).
|arriver à||assister à||consentir à||hésiter à|
|parvenir à||persister à||résister à||songer à|
- Nous arrivons à l’hôtel.
- Ils ont hésité à prendre une décision.
- Tu songes au moment où tu pourras partir sans souci.
After Pronominal Verbs
Some verbs in the pronominal form are followed by the preposition à. These include the idiomatic pronominal verbs below:
|s’attendre à||s’habituer à||se mettre à|
|se faire à||s’intéresser à|
- Elles s’attendent à ce que vous disiez la vérité.
- Vous intéressez-vous au progrès de son rapport ?
- Elle s’est mise à rire dès qu’elle a vu sa réaction.
Be Used with or without Preposition À
Some verbs can be used either with or without the preposition à:
|réussir||On réussit à l’examen.|
|réussir à||Il n’a pas réussi son coup.|
|habiter||J’habite ce beau quartier.|
|habiter à||On habite à Paris.|
We also see these used with other prepositions, depending on circumstance, e.g., “Cette compagnie réussit dans ce milieu”, “Nous habitons dans le même bâtiment”, “Il habite en banlieue”.
Expressions of Time
The preposition à is used in these expressions of time:
|Expressions of Time||Examples|
|passer du temps à||Ils avaient passé du temps à réviser leurs notes.|
|mettre du temps à||Nous mettons du temps à compléter cette expérience.|
Different meaning with or without Preposition À
Some verbs that can be used with no preposition can mean something quite different when an à is placed after them:
|Verbs with Preposition||Verbs with NO Preposition|
|arriver: to arrive||arriver à: to accomplish, to achieve|
|attendre: to wait for||s’attendre à: to expect|
|tenir: to hold||tenir à: to prize; to be very fond of; to care about; to be attached to (figuratively)|
- Nous sommes arrivés à la gare.
- Comment est-ce qu’il arrive à tout compléter en si peu de temps ?
- Tu attends le bus.
- Ils s’attendent à ce que la législature prenne une décision.
- Ils tiendront la porte.
- Elle tient à son image publique.
Direct Object and Indirect Object
Some verbs take a direct object as well as an indirect object introduced by the preposition à. In this case, the direct object is a thing and the indirect object is a person (or animal):
|Verbs → quelque chose à quelqu’un||Verbs → quelque chose à quelqu’un|
- Il avait envoyé le colis à son collègue.
- On lira le mémoire aux autres membres du comité.
Verbs Followed by the Preposition de
When the preposition de follows a verb, it can introduce a noun, another verb, or a complete idea (within a prepositional phrase).
|accepter de||défendre de||éviter de||oublier de|
|accuser de||dépendre de||hériter de||rire de|
|changer de||empêcher de||menacer de||risquer de|
|dater de||essayer de||mériter de||tenter de|
- Il a essayé de lui expliquer la situation.
- On avait tenté de partir avant l’arrivée de M. X.
- Ce manuscrit date du 15e siècle.
- Les manchots empereurs en formation changent de place pour que chacun ait la chance de se mettre à l’intérieur.
After Pronominal Verbs
Some verbs followed by the preposition de are only in the pronominal form:
|s’abstenir de||s’efforcer de||se moquer de||se souvenir de|
|se dépêcher de||se méfier de||se rendre compte de|
- On s’éfforce de suivre les conseils de la directrice.
- Elles se souviendront du nom du client après avoir vu sa photo.
- Vous vous êtes dépêché de donner votre avis sur la situation.
Different Meaning with or without Preposition De
Some verbs take on quite different meanings when used alone and used with de:
|venir: to come||Je viens à la réunion.|
|venir de: to have just completed||Nous venons d’assister à la réunion.|
We see that the meanings are almost opposite, since the first indicates arrival and the second suggests a completion, a leaving behind of sorts.
Verbs that Are Followed by Both À and De
Some verbs can be followed by both à and de, depending on the circumstance.
- For the following verbs, à is followed by a person (or animal), while de introduces an infinitive:
|Verbs → quelque chose à quelqu’un||Verbs → quelque chose à quelqu’un|
- Le patron demande à ses employés de compléter le projet.
- La ministre a rappelé aux membres de la législature de bien réfléchir sur les conséquences de leurs décisions.
Some verbs are followed by either à or de, depending on what they refer to:
|jouer à: to play (a sport or game)||Ils jouent au foot.|
|On joue aux échecs.|
|jouer de: to play (an instrument)||Elle joue du piano.|
Some verbs can be followed by à or de, depending on the relationship to the object of the verb:
|Verb + à||Verb + de|
|penser à: to think about||penser de: to think of, have an opinion|
|rêver à: to dream about, have a dream about||rêver de: to dream of, have aspirations|
|manquer à: to be missing from, to be missed; to fail||manquer de: to lack|
|continuer à: to continue, to prolong||continuer de: to continue, to be in the habit of|
- Qu’est-ce que vous pensez de cette décision ?
- Je pensais aux résultats.
- A-t-il rêvé au monstre du Loch Ness cette nuit-là ?
- Nous rêvons de déchirer ce dossier.
- C’est un détail important qui manque à cette version de l’accord.
- Son discours manque de subtilité et de finesse.
- Les membres du comité ont continué à discuter des amendements jusqu’à 1 h du matin.
- Le changement climatique continue de produire une élévation du niveau de la mer.
(Note that a September 4, 2017 article in Le Figaro recommends, along with paying attention to the subtle differences between using à and de with the verb continuer, the use of the preposition de between two vowel sounds, e.g., “il a continué d’amener” rather than il a continué à amener”.)
We find the prepositions à and de with the same verb in different constructions, as with those below:
|obliger à: to oblige, to force, to bind, to compel||Leurs actions m’obligeront à les envoyer au tribunal.|
|être obligée, obligé de: to be subject to, to be obligated to||On est obligé de trouver des mesures disciplinaires.|
Since prepositions pop up all the time and can seem quite random to language learners, they are often taught as parts of the language students need to memorize. And this may be the fastest way for some learners to learn them, but it is also useful to have some background when dealing with them. Even in cases in which different prepositions can be used with the same verb, it is good to know the different nuances that are associated with each. Remembering when to use which preposition can be dealt with in a few ways, including learning them along with new verbs and including them in stock phrases to have as references.
I confess that prepositions do not seem to be the most popular part of language learning, and that I myself have mentioned preferring Latin declensions. I do recall one person saying she liked prepositions, but this was the same person I may have mentioned in a previous article, a French woman who was vegetarian, gave crystal clear explanations of French grammar, and reportedly exercised three hours a day. These exercises undoubtedly included exercise of the brain, with a particular focus on prepositions.
- Understanding French Pronominal Verbs
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- How to Express Times and Dates in French
- The Ultimate Guide to French Tenses
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Use à to express to or at
The most common usage of the preposition à is to mean “to” or “at” when following the verb aller (to go). When a is followed by le, la, les (the), a contraction must occur. For example, “Je vais au (à + le) magasin” (I go to the store).
The preposition à can mean at, in, or to and the preposition de can mean from, of, or out of. À can show point of departure and destination, cause and consequence, means and outcome. De can also indicate origin, point of departure, consequence, and belonging, as well as separation.What are the prepositions à and DE? ›
The French prepositions à and de cause constant problems for French students. Generally speaking, à means "to," "at," or "in," while de means "of" or "from." Both prepositions have numerous uses and to understand each better, it is best to compare them.What are the prepositions using au à la à l and aux? ›
Prepositions – using au, à la, à l' and aux
- Use à l' before a singular word beginning with a vowel or silent -h, eg: tu as parlé à l'ami de Julien ? - did you speak to Julien's friend? - Use aux before a word in the plural form, eg: vous allez aux États-Unis ? - are you going to the USA?
- 1 – à (to, at, in + city). ...
- 2 – de (from, of, about). ...
- 3 – chez (at/to someone's place). ...
- 4 – en (in, by). ...
- 5 – sur ≠ sous (on ≠ under). ...
- 6 – au dessus de ≠ en dessous de (above ≠ under – without touching the object)
'a' is a conjugated form of the verb 'avoir' e.g. il a un bateau (He has a boat)'à' is commonly used as a preposition. Its meaning varies depending on the sentence. It can mean at, in, or to.How do you know which form of de to use in French? ›
The French preposition de is required after certain verbs and phrases when they are followed by an infinitive. And de is required after many French verbs and phrases that need an indirect object, Keep in mind that de plus a noun can be replaced by the adverbial pronoun en. For example, J'en ai besoin. > I need it.What verbs use de in French? ›
- 1) Essayer De – To Try.
- 2) Arrêter De – To Stop.
- 3) Oublier De – To Forget.
- 4) Refuser De – To Refuse.
- 5) Regretter De – To Regret.
- 6) S'excuser De – To Apologize For.
- 7) Faire Semblant De – To Pretend To.
- 8) Choisir De – To Choose.
French prepositions à and de are contracted when they are followed by the definite articles le and les and the different forms of laquel. In informal French, the tu is sometimes contracted and so are il(s), elle(s), puis, parce que, quelque. Some words such as aujourd'hui, voici, and voila are fixed contractions.What is the rule for French prepositions? ›
French prepositions are used before a noun or pronoun, or after an adjective to link words into a sentence. Prepositions can have an object, but that isn't always the case. They are never used to end a sentence, and fortunately don't have genders, tenses, or plural forms!
Prepositions in the English language indicate the relationship of a noun or pronoun to something. When using a preposition, it is necessary to have the subject and verb before it and should be followed by a noun. Never follow a preposition with a verb.What are the two types of preposition? ›
The different types of prepositions are: Prepositions of Place. Prepositions of Time.What is the golden rule of preposition? ›
6. The golden preposition rule. A preposition is followed by a "noun". It is NEVER followed by a verb.What are the prepositions de and a French verbs? ›
verb + à + quelqu'un + de + infinitive
For eight of these verbs, à indicates who is to do something, while de precedes whatever that something is. So for the above verbs, the "someone" after à (or replaced by an indirect object pronoun) is the person who is supposed to perform the action after de.
"beneath," "beside," "between," "from," "in front of," "inside," "near," "off," "out of," "through," "toward," "under," and "within."What are 3 examples of prepositions in à sentence? ›
[M] [T] He is absent from school today. [M] [T] He is often absent from school. [M] [T] He was absent from the meeting. [M] [T] His house is not far from here.What are 5 examples of prepositions in à sentence? ›
- “I always brush my teeth in the morning.”
- “My birthday is in June.”
- “It's always cold in winter.”
- “My brother was born in 1999.”
Accents are used only on vowels and under the letter c. An accent aigu ( ) is only used on an e (é) and produces the sound ay, as in “day.” It may also replace an s from old French. When you see this letter, replace the é with an imaginary s to see if its meaning becomes more evident.What are the two types of accents in French? ›
l'accent aigu (acute accent) – é l'accent grave (grave accent) – à, è, ùWhat pronoun replaces a in French? ›
The adverbial pronoun y can replace a place or the object of the preposition à. Y is most commonly equivalent to "there" or "here," but may also be translated by a preposition plus "it." J'y vois douze pommes.
French is more strict than English: if the pronoun is a direct object, you have to use 'le', 'la' or 'les', if it's indirect, you have to use 'lui' or 'leur'. I give her flowers every day. and conclude 'The French for 'her' is 'la', I'll write Je la donne des fleurs chaque jour', which is wrong.How many French prepositions are there? ›
You will see from the table above that there are fewer preposition in French than English; in fact, there are only nine simple prepositions of position and direction - à, sur, sous, dans, en, vers, entre derrière and devant, as against fourteen in English.What prepositions are followed by de? ›
The preposition de is generally summarized as "of, from, or about," but it has quite a few more meanings and uses than that. When de is followed by the definite article le or les, the two words must contract. However, de does not contract with the direct objects le and les.What are the forms of preposition de? ›
What are de's different forms? De can be written as-is, but it can change depending on the quantity or letter of the word that comes after it. There are six ways you'll commonly see, hear, and use de: de, de la, du, de l', d', and des.What are the three forms of de? ›
In Chinese grammar de particles are an important topic to learn. The three de particles are 的, 地and 得and each has very different uses. In fact, the only similarity is that each is pronounced de.How do you know if à word is masculine or feminine in French? ›
The best place to start when trying to figure out the gender of a French word is by looking at the ending of the word. Words that use the articles le or un are going to be masculine, and words that use the articles la or une are feminine.What are the 6 accents in French? ›
The names of the French accents are: the l'accent aigu (é), l'accent grave (è), le circonflexe (ê), l'accent tréma (ë) and la cédille (ç). The purpose of this post is to demystify the French accents and explain the pronunciation so you can start to incorporate them into your reading and speaking.What are the 4 vowels French? ›
French has four nasal vowels which, as you will see, are worthy of their name. When the letters e, a, o, i, u are followed by m or n, their pronunciation changes and becomes… nasal.How do you use prepositions with places in French? ›
- for cities/towns/villages, use à: ...
- for feminine countries (countries ending with the letter -e), use en: ...
- for masculine countries (ie not ending with -e or -s), use au:
In French, geographical preposition for countries, cities, states and provinces can be difficult to form. In a nutshell, the rule for prepositions for places is to use “au” for masculine countries (provinces and states), “en” for feminine countries, “aux” for plural countries and “à” for cities.
verbs followed by no preposition: aimer, aimer mieux, aller, croire, désirer, devoir, faire, espérer, laisser.How can I learn prepositions easily? ›
Sort by preposition and write complete sentences from the text. Once you've highlighted the prepositions in your reading passage, grab a notebook and write down each separate preposition—“in,” “under,” “at,” and so on—at the top of its own page. Then, write down each sentence in the text that uses that preposition.What is the correct order of prepositions? ›
As a general rule, the preposition should come directly before its complement. This means the preposition is essentially part of its noun phrase, and can be moved as part of a noun phrase. We had coffee on the beach. OR On the beach, we had coffee.What is the rule for questions with prepositions? ›
In informal or spoken English, when a question word needs a preposition, the preposition goes at the end of the question (after the verb or after verb + object if there is an object). We don't use the preposition at the beginning. I played tennis with John. ⇒ Who did you play tennis with?What verbs take à in French? ›
- aider (help)
- s'amuser (have fun)
- apprendre (learn to)
- commencer (begin)
- consister (consist)
- continuer (continue)
- se décider (decide)
- encourager (encourage)
- à (in at or to) before names of cities or people.
- à l' (in at or to) before singular nouns that begin with a vowel or vowel sound.
- aux (in at or to) before ALL plural nouns.
- au (in at or to) before singular, masculine nouns that start with a consanant.
- à la (in at or to)